Saturday, October 31, 2009

All Soul's Day/All Saints Day


Having been brought up Roman Catholic, I can never travel Life's Path on October 31 and November 1 without thinking of all my loved ones who have moved ahead on the Path and entered the next existence.

This past year, I have created my own Memorial Altar...a kind of "Day of the Dead" memorial on which I have pictures of my loved ones, some of my brother's ashes and a candle burning. Each time I pass, I pray...prayers of thanksgiving for their being part of my life, prayers for peace of spirit and mind, prayers of love.

When I was a child, it was creepy to think of people's spirits hovering close to us after death. As an adult, older and I hope wiser, I take great comfort in this thought. I have felt the presence of my mother and father over the past year during different times when I needed a bit of guidance or when I wished I could share a moment with them. I have felt my brother's spirit lingering at home, finally at peace, with my beloved and I. I have felt the loving spirit of a dear friend who, like me, was an educator and writer.

All Soul's Day and All Saint's Day are for me a continuous celebration of Life. During both, I remember my loved ones, celebrating their lives, sharing memories that for me are still so real I can touch them and recognizing the gifts of love, friendship and grace they each gave me.

It is no longer creepy to think of death. I have come to a clear understanding that it is simply a part of Life. I have seen the full circle of life as a birthing coach and as a Reiki master holding the hand of a dying patient. The work is the same, it is only the direction that is different. A new child enters this Life, while a person dying exits. The door is the same.

I like to think of it this way: my loved ones have run ahead of me on Life's Path. They have journeyed into a new land. On occasion, they send a spiritual telegram to let me know they are fine and that I will be, also. It is comforting.

May you all find peace-filled memories of your loved ones who have run ahead on Life's Path today and tomorrow and all the tomorrows to come until we meet with them again.

Monday, October 19, 2009

What the....


Photo Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

After years as a writer, I am still shocked/amazed/dumbfounded by some of the stories found to be newsworthy today, as well as society's lack of understanding for the term private.


To begin with, when did "private" become the new public? I am old enough to remember that when a public figure asked for privacy it was respected. Now, as I heard on NPR this morning, you can attend a class reunion and your "private" comment can make national news!


Don't get me wrong, I love NPR. I listen to them every morning on my 45 minute drive to the college at which I teach. I enjoy the music, the intellectual commentary and find their news, for the most part, to be trustworthy and to the point.

So, it was with great surprise this morning that I listened to the NPR reporter discuss a matter our new Supreme Court Justice commented on during a "private conversation" (so stated by the reporter) at a college reunion. Why was this news?

Does it not occur to others that what we should be hearing from the media is how our politicians are going to account for the now trillions of dollars that have simply disappeared from our economy? Shouldn't we be reading reports on how poverty, disease, lack of education, homelessness, famine, and abuse are going to be dealt with in our lifetime? Wouldn't it make more sense to be sharing information on how to make the world a better place to live in rather than gossiping about what the Supreme Court Justice said to someone at a college reunion, which, by the way, has nothing to do with how she will consider a case.

I am really bothered by this trend, which seems to be permeating every aspect of the lives. I think it started with those ridiculous reality TV shows. Why anyone would enjoy, find interesting or otherwise care about people living dysfunctional lives is beyond me. The reality is that anyone who has actually lived with dysfunction knows that it is painful, traumatic and not something you proudly share with the rest of the world...or, at least it didn't used to be.

From reality TV, society took a giant step into the public arena with cell phones. Suddenly, the most intimate of conversations are being shared with everyone within earshot. I have written before about my disdain for this phenomena. It simply does not thrill me to learn that: a) Jimmy is soooo hot! or, b) exactly what he did that made him that way! Furthermore, do I enjoy listening to an unappreciative adolescent fight with their parent on the phone all the while rolling their eyes and making faces.


In addition, it is quite disconcerting to me to see someone apparently talking to them self. I grew up in a time when if someone did that they were taken to the mental hospital and committed. However, now, if you look closely, you will see a little ear device that allows the person to hear their cellphone call as well as comment to the caller, anywhere, anytime, anyplace.


Finally, there is texting, which is less intrusive as far as hearing goes, but still eats into other people's space especially when the text message is shared with others or the person texting begins giggling, laughing, commenting and/or swearing at the text they just received.


What, I ask, can be done? Can we take a giant step back to the days where we had telephone booths which closed so that our conversations might remain private? Might it be possible, ever again, for our public figures to be able to speak to a friend in the intimacy of a private party and not have to worry that what they said would become headline news the next day? Would it ever be possible to control technology instead of having technology control us?


Does anyone have any ideas?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Finding the "Fun" in DysFUNctional

Today I'm participating in a mass blogging! WOW! Women On Writing has gathered a group of blogging buddies to write about family relationships. Why family relationships? We're celebrating the release of Therese Walsh's debut novel today. The Last Will of Moira Leahy, (Random House, October 13, 2009) is about a mysterious journey that helps a woman learn more about herself and her twin, whom she lost when they were teenagers. Visit The Muffin (http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/blog.html) to read what Therese has to say about family relationships and view the list of all my blogging buddies. And make sure you visit Therese's website (http://www.theresewalsh.com) to find out more about the author."

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The older I get, the more I realize that I had one crazy mother! However, her form of crazy was more of a tool for coping with a world that during her life had gone from WWII to the brink of nuclear war, from prohibition to race riots and from the health of an athlete to a debilitating, incurable disease. Momma was crazy in the way that hid her insecurities, masked her brilliance and kept her putting one foot in front of the other up until the day she died.

At her memorial service, one of my cousins shared how much fun it was to visit Aunt Mickey, as she was called. My cousin told everyone a story of coming to visit and going for a walk to the beach, singing all the way.

Sure, we were singing! What else do you do when you have you own three toddlers plus your sister-in-law and her four, you live in a tiny apartment in South Boston and you are hoping to get the kids tired enough to nap so that you can cook dinner in peace.


Honestly, if I had a dime for each time someone told me, "Your mother is crazy!" I'd be rich. Momma did the darnedest things!

One winter, my Dad was out of work, yet, it was the best Christmas I remember as a child. Momma told us that we were having a Pioneer Christmas, so we would burn candles at night, wear our coats in the house and sleep with hats and mittens on our heads and hands. She had us make our own ornaments for the tree. She got scraps of paper, cut them into strips and we made paper chains. We strung popcorn.

Christmas morning, the tree had what seemed to me to be a ton of gifts. I had a real rag doll with a little strawberry basket bed, bed linens and clothes. My brothers had cowboy vests and scarves. We each had a tangerine in our stocking along with a few walnuts and a candy cane.

Years later, I learned that our electricity had been disconnected, there was very little coal for the furnace, and Momma made all our presents at night after we went to bed. She used her own skirts to make the vests and scarves for the boys. My doll was made from scraps of material she had, old baby clothes and lots of love. Our stockings were filled with the money she had saved and gathered from change in the bottom of pockets and purses.

Looking back, I am constantly amazed at the tenacity of this woman who gave me birth. Her ability to smile in the face of disaster was a lesson I learned early in life. Not that it is the best tool to have, because it often creates its own issues, especially when you, yourself, need help, but it does come in handy at times.



Neas Family - Castle Island 1964

For instance, we never went out for walks or trips without being washed and dressed in our best clothes. I remember one particular day when we went "window-shopping." (Window-shopping was when Momma would get us all dressed up, put the baby in the carriage, which looked like a parade float with its handmade blanket and pillow which matched the baby's sweater and hat, and marched us all up the length of Broadway to look in all the store windows.)

So, here we all were, me with Shirley Temple curls, a dress with enough starch to keep it looking crisp and new; my brothers with their white shirts, little shorts, buster browns and knee socks; and Momma in her best (only) dress and heels with makeup perfectly applied. If we didn't look like the cast from one of those 50's TV series, nothing did. You never would have guessed that Dad had not given Mom any money for over two weeks, that we had had one can of soup to feed the five of us or that the landlord was threatening eviction. No...we looked like the model American family.

Half way up Broadway Hill, Momma saw one of her old schoolmates coming down towards us. With her best stage whisper, Momma ordered us to smile, not an easy task when you are walking up a hill that makes the Matterhorn look like a cakewalk.

"Why Anne Marie, how nice to see you and your lovely children after all these years," the woman said. Her tone was anything but cordial.

"Mary Margaret, imagine seeing you here among the common people," Momma countered, smiling as if she was meeting a long lost friend.

"My, but you all look so festive!" Mary Margaret observed. She leaned conspiratorially into Momma's space saying, "I heard your husband was out of work, poor dear, but it looks as if all is well, huh?"

Momma pulled her tiny five foot frame as tall as she could, looked Mary Margaret in the eyes and said, "Well, my dear, you can't believe everything you hear, now, can you?"

Before her schoolmate could get another word out, Momma began walking. Over her shoulder, she called out her usual parting words. "God Bless!" she said, then leaned down to me and said, "Always smile, Linda, it keeps them guessing!"

For us, window-shopping was a great adventure, a walk through possibilities and dreams. For Momma, it was a way to show the world that she was still moving forward, still managing and still smiling.

As I said earlier, Momma's craziness was really a very handy tool to have when facing a life full of challenges. Take lunches, for instance, back in the 50's and 60's, students went home for lunch. School was only a few blocks from the house. Streets were safe to walk. Mothers and/or grandmothers were home waiting for you. I remember always looking forward to coming home for lunch. Lunch was an adventure, a journey into make believe.

Momma made triangle sandwiches like they served in the French courts of Louis the XIV and soup with rice or pasta in it like the fancy restaurants in Italy. Tuna salad was made with one small can of tuna, a shredded carrot, celery, onion, a diced apple, raisins and a scoop of mayonnaise. One can could feed six people!

While my friends told me how crazy Momma was, none ever refused an offer to come and eat at our house. Momma never turned anyone away or made me feel as if I was imposing bring someone home. We always had enough.

I now know that she would simply add more water to the soup along with some herbs and a bit more rice or pasta or instead of four sandwiches, she would make eight open face treats, telling us that this was what they served in Hollywood. We never knew we were poor, or that she didn't have two pennies to rub together. We just knew it was fun to eat triangular peanut butter and celery sandwiches on pillows under the table, our tent, like desert nomads. Life was an adventure and it was crazy.

Momma found the "fun" in dysFUNctional. She smiled in the wake of disaster, laughed in the face of pain and taught me that when your cup is half-full you always have enough to share.


Saturday, October 3, 2009

Hope

It has been the wisdom of many humanitarian groups that, "If you give a person a fish, they eat for a day. But, if you teach a person to fish, they eat for a lifetime." Teaching others to care for themselves not only enables them to have pride in their accomplishments, it also allows their dreams to come true...possible dreams.

Those who work at Possible Dreams International (PDI) understand this not only on the intellectual level but also from the level of action. The following pictures are from PDI. They show how the team at PDI helped a community to build a water tank for clean drinking water. The community was intimately involved in the project.

With Possible Dreams, the Mambane community went from drinking this:


To drinking this:



The Community celebrates clean water:



Clean water...something we all take for granted, yet for the people of Swaziland and other Third World countries, clean water is the difference between life and death.

To learn more about Possible Dreams International and how you can help bring clean water to your brothers and sisters around the world, please click here: PDI